Tension simmering for months between Allentown City Council member Jeanette Eichenwald and city managing director Francis Dougherty boiled over Wednesday night.
Dougherty is the city administration’s chief representative at City Council meetings, which Mayor Ed Pawlowski rarely attends.
In the last several months, complained Eichenwald, Dougherty has been disrespectful in his responses to questions she and city residents have put to the administration during council meetings.
Dougherty was gone when Eichenwald made her remarks at the end of Wednesday’s meeting. She also complained that he has been leaving council meetings long before they end.
“Mr. Dougherty represents the administration,” said Eichenwald. “And it is incumbent upon the administration to respond to a question from a City Council person – and also to any citizen.
“Someone from the administration needs to be here and needs to at least make a good faith effort to answer a respectful, responsible question,” she added.
Eichenwald said she has been on City Council for nearly seven years “and I’ve never come across this before --- other than the last several months.”
She told her four fellow council members at the meeting that she is disappointed that she gets no support from them when she is treated disrespectfully by the managing director.
(Council members Ray O’Connell and Cynthia Mota were absent.)
Council president Julio Guridy said Eichenwald’s points “are well taken” and agreed someone from the city’s administration should be at City Council meetings at all times.
Added Eichenwald: “And to answer questions in a respectful manner, in the same way in which those questions are asked.”
In recent months, Dougherty also has become curt with members of the public who have questions for the administration during council meetings.
At council’s April 16 meeting, for example, he refused to answer a resident's question.
"I have no obligation to answer any questions," he declared.
Eichenwald immediately called him on that, saying residents with questions are entitled to answers.
Dougherty said they can't expect answers if he's not prepared with answers.
Question about a blighted property
The managing director and city council member had their latest terse exchange at the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting, before Dougherty left.
It happened after Ken Heffentrager of the Allentown Tenant Association addressed council.
Heffentrager implored the city to deal with a blighted home at 338 N. 12th St., which he said is “probably the worst property in the city – a major eyesore.”
He said the city put an unsafe structure tag on the building, which gave the owners 30 days to raze or repair it.
“This has been like this for a year,” said Heffentrager. “Please take care of this.”
He said bricks and other materials are falling off the rapidly deteriorating building.
Saying many people walk along 12th Street, Heffentrager warned: “Something is going to come down on somebody. And you know who’s going to be liable? The city.”
After Heffentrager spoke, Eichenwald asked Dougherty if he would please tell her how Allentown’s program called “Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods: The Center City Initiative” will impact that blighted home on N. 12th Street.